Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Professor Daniel Aldrich - Building resilience in post-disaster recovery

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Hi there, my name is Daniel Neely. I am the Manager of Community Resilience at the Wellington

Regional Emergency Management Office here in Wellington New Zealand. I am here with

Daniel Aldrich, professor of political science at Perdue University and we are here today

to talk about social capital. Daniel, Welcome. Thank you very much for having me. Can you

tell us a little about yourself, briefly? Sure. I am this year in Tokyo Japing, working

on a Fulbright professorship there and studying the recovery from the 2011 Tōhoku disaster in

Japan. As you know, on 3/11 there was a tsunami off the coast of Japan that struck and killed

around 17000 people and set off a nuclear meltdown as well in Fukushima Daiichi . So the process of

recovery has been really slow one there. For the last 2 years, I have been helping to understand

what factors speed up or slow down the process of rebuilding peoples lives along the coast.

And what are some of the findings that you have come out of Japan so far with? Well some

of the things are pretty intuitive. Like we know for example that mortality, people who

were killed often were killed because of the height of the wave. Higher wave means more

people that are killed on the ground. We also found some interesting results with social

capital. We found that communities that are better connected locally, people who had more

connections, more trust in their neighbors; those communities seem to do better in their

survival part of the disaster and the recovery part. That is they had fewer people killed

because there is more information and more trust about the evacuation notices. And we

also found the process of rebuilding itself went more smoothly when local communities

were both actively involved and trusting each other and the central government. Thats

really quite fascinating. Are there some examples you can tell us a little bit about, exactly

what that would look like? Sure. So we know in many cases there only about 40 minutes

between the sirens going off announcing the tsunami was coming, and arrival of the wave

itself. So in that 40 minutes if you were healthy and able bodied, getting out was no

problem, you could walk out maybe 2 or 3 kilometers to a shelter far above the tsunami height.

But if you were elderly or infirm, or in a bed getting out in that 40 minutes was very

challenging. And many times people we talked with told us that they only survived because

a friend, a care giver, someone who was living nearby knew they needed help and came to help

them out of the house. so that very process of survival itself is a function of knowledge

of other people, or neighbors, of friends, of family who could come and help you out

in that process. Then as the recovery started up several weeks later, after the search and

rescue was done, we found many people who felt connected to the community they stayed

behind and helped. individuals that felt less connected, who felt isolated often would move

up and go someplace else, maybe further inland away from the vulnerable areas, to big cities

to where there are more people living nearby. If you felt connected though, if you had a

sense of place, if you had friends and family who tied you down, then often times you chose

to stay and rebuild. So often times the community involvement come from areas where people felt,

this is my home, whatever the costs are, psychic cost, financial costs, time costs, Ill

stay and fix things. So with this idea of social capital, maybe you can just tell us

a little bit more about what social capital is and how it applies to this field of disaster

research. Sure. So social capital simply put is the tie that binds us to other people.

Many of us have friends on Facebook; we have friends at work or friends in our neighborhood,

so those are types of connections that provide both information, of course, and relationships.

So maybe Im looking for informati0on on how to get things restarted after a disaster,

Im looking for help in moving my home to a new place, Im looking for a place to

stay while my house is being fixed. So often times these kinds of connections that we have

to friends, to neighbors, they provide resources that we need, like information or a place

to stay. So what we found is across time and space in Japan, in India, in America, and also

in New Zealand those social connections play a critical part in driving the recovery process

forward. You mentioned that social capital has played a role in New Zealand; can you

describe that a little bit for us? Sure. So what we have seen is in parts of Christchurch with the

very active communities or very active NGOs. We have some simple examples, things like

greening the rubble among other things or the student army. where there have been large

numbers of local volunteers, people getting involved, giving blood, helping out, picking

up garbage from there area, making it look better. In those communities we see a very

active bottom up involvement, and a concern you might have would be is if its only

a top down approach to building; that is if the government says we are building these

buildings in these places, thats not really driven by a local needs or local concerns.

And what you see is a bottom up process; where the local communities, who are really interested

in improving and maintain the quality of life, they want to get involved, they want their

voices to be heard. Communities like Greening the rubble, the student army, those are local

initiatives the little time bank processes, theyre ways of improving the quality of

life more than just having building rebuilt but having those relationships and friendships

rebuilt. Right. So when you say governments should take, or maybe recognize more that

bottom up approach, what does that look like from a policy point of view potentially? So

ideally we'd have citizens involved in every aspect of a disaster recovery, including the

planning stages and also the advisory stages. We want to get feedback from the local citizens.

How are things going right now on the ground? its often hard to tell if youre working

in a civil servants agency or even a private organization, whats really going on for

local residents who maybe waiting 1, 2, or even 3 years for an insurance settlement and

for information. What will their lives be like in a year? Often times their involvement

in the community and their involvement in the planning gives them a sense that their

voices are being taken seriously and they have a better sense of the future if they

know concerns about a better or greener neighborhood are being taken seriously. Maybe they will

decide to stay, or they will relocate elsewhere. And right now we are beginning to collect

data on relocation; from which neighborhoods, which areas have people been relocating and

to where are they moving. we are finding, of course is people are leaving the red zone,

the areas that are unsafe, but we also find certain neighborhoods seem to be drawing in

people and others dont seem to be drawing them in. the question for us scholars and

as policy individuals is to figure out why do some neighborhoods seem to attracted new

people and bring back residents, when other ones seem to be, just perhaps maintain whatever

population they had before. Right. So what are somethings that people in their own

communities can do to increase social capital? So we hope people would want to get involved,

and get involved in everything from school organizations. Like a parent teacher association

a PTA, maybe a local club, religious groups, churches, mosque, or synagogues. Maybe there

are local NGO's involved in planning helping the elderly. Those are ways people can really

give back to the community. What we found is a person who gives back; get a lot back

more than they give. of course they have to give their time and there effort, but often

times the friendships that they form, the information that they create and the relationships

they form, those give them back a lot over the long term. So someone, for example, might

have felt isolated and alone in a community. by getting involved in a group, weather religious

based or sports based, school based NGO based, that involvement gives them a feeling of bigger

than themselves. That often helps someone who is elderly or infirm really connect and

reaffirm their lives even after a disaster like the one in Wellington, sorry Christchurch.

Are there any other components that they can do to get more connected or better prepared

in their community? There are a lot of things we think people can do; the first would be

simply to get to know your neighbors, you know often times even in very close knit quarters

like those in Christchurch and Wellington; people might live for years and not really

know their neighbors very well. Their last names perhaps a cell phone number; we found

that information is really critical. We saw in Japan and in America most of the people

whose lives were saved soon after a disaster, was saved by neighbors, not by professionally

trained first responders, by firefighters, or by police officers. They were saved by

people who lived nearby and knew where to look for them, if the house had collapsed

or they needed help with things they needed. Like if you need a wheelchair, you need medicine,

if youve got young kids in the house, maybe only your neighbors know that information;

the police dont know that information, the central government doesnt know that.

But your neighbors can come and help you, if they know that you need help. So we found

that, I mentioned already, that in Tōhoku people were often saved by neighbors. Similarly in

New Orleans after Hurricane Katarina, the people who saved lives, often were people living

nearby who had boats and could offer their services. So the first stage would be getting

to know your neighbors on personal bases, making that phone call, Knocking on the door

just saying hello. But communities themselves can also do things, they can have festivals, associations,

mayday, events outside, and I think that will get people out of their homes and into some

broader social event. It may be a sports activity, could be a barbeque. I know here for example

in wellington, some organizations have been giving out grants actually to help encourage

those local connections. So that would require of course local interest, along with the recognition

by policy makers its worth supporting these kinds of processes. What are some of the things

that at the central government level, we can be considering to increase the concept of

social capital? Even though central governments are good at spending money on big programs,

so big spending projects, large buildings, clearing the rubble, thats things governments

are good at. Its harder for a central government to think about connecting to local residents,

I think this is really where we need local organizations and NGOs, people connected

on the ground. Part of the central governments plan should be to think through, how do we

better connect not only our policies that are ongoing now, but future decision making

as well? What we found around the world is, where local citizens are better involved in

the planning process, they feel they are more connected to it and they support it. We know

for example, in Christchurch Cera C-E-R-A has amended to exist only until 2016. If they

have been doing good things until then, but there is no by in from the local community,

it wont matter as much come 2017, 2018. We know that communities recover over not just

over months and years but even decades. So in the years that come, it would be fantastic

is Cera thought through ways to connect is policies to abide on the ground and to involvement

from citizens. it could be advisory groups, it could be citizens on planning meetings

themselves, or at least having a more open flow of information and transparency so citizens

really feel they a voice and a part to play. What are some of these things here in wellington

that we are doing or can be doing that can increase social capital and maybe make some

of these connections stronger? So there has been a great outreach program from organizations

like REMO that have really made an attempt to get to know especially communities of citizens

here. Faith based communities, immigrant communities, community of school kids or elderly, those

are populations that often are pretty insular, they might not have connections elsewhere

and I see a really strong attempt locally to make a connection to those communities

and to maintain those bonds. Right and this is before disasters. I think a big thing to

think about is not to wait until a disaster strikes to build up these connections, but

to prepare for it ahead of time. Of course you want to have water and food in your houses

and have emergency numbers, but beyond that simple preparation, reaching out to neighbors,

reaching out to NGO's this is one way to prepare for disaster. I have also seen a lot of great

works; the Blue zones here-Tsunami blue lines- yes the tsunami blue line has been a great

way to involve local citizen themselves in an educational process. You tell them; look we know there

is a risk, what are you going to do about it? And the process here in wellington at

least, meant that the citizens said this is our way of remembering on a daily bases where

the vulnerabilities are and where its a safe zone. Thats a great privilege to be

expanded, not just Wellington but across the country. Nice. Daniel, I understand that you

have recently written a book on social capital and it explains this concept more in depth

with examples that span the last century and examples around the world. The title of that

book is called "Building Resilience Social Capital in Post Disaster Recovery". Can you

tell us a little about that book? Sure. This came out of personal experience. In 2005,

we have moved out to New Orleans and after about 6 weeks there hurricane Katerina came

and when the levies broke afterwards, our house, our home, everything we owned was destroyed.

I had a lot of time to think about the process of resilience and recovery, and it became

pretty clear early on that while the central government clearly wanted to help, it by itself

couldnt do enough and private insurance also wouldnt be enough; in our case we

actually didnt have insurance. So the recovery process for us personally was one of friends,

friends of friends, and networks offering advice, offering assistance, offering places

to stay for us and our children. So this book is really grown out of my attempts around

the world to understand have other survivors in other communities had the same kind of

involvement in social networks. And I think the answer is to a large degree, yes. Whether

in Japan, or whether in India, or whether in America; these networks are critical drivers

of recovery. excellent, and having read the book myself I'd say anybody that is even half

way interested in this concept, wither from a policy or practitioner point of view, it

is definitely worth the read. It is very informative, and provides excellent examples from a practical

of how important social capital is in our communities. Thank you very much for contributing

that to our sector. Thanks for reading it. finally, if people want to find out more about

some of the work and some of the research that you do and some of the ideas that you

have, where can they find this information. Sure.

Thank you very much for coming out and spending some time with us in Wellington.

Its been incredibly informative for everybody that weve been taking you around to talk

to. Thank you for having me.

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